Food in Tokyo is pretty damn good, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that there are great meals to be had in Kyoto besides the traditional Japanese food it’s known for. These are the top five food spots we liked best. We only wish we had a better camera. Please excuse our sub-par photos.
1. Italian at Colori Caffe
A friend of a friend in NYC heard we had plans to visit Kyoto and introduced us to Yossi, Italian restaurant owner and chef extraordinaire. From the moment we met, I knew we were going to be friends. I could go on and on about how awesome she is, but I’ll save that for another day. This girl does everything by herself, from the buying of the food to the cooking to the serving to the cleaning. Crazy, right? But she does everything so flawlessly and seamlessly that we were able to really enjoy the food.
Oh, the food! We’ve become a little jaded when it comes to restaurant food, but we were so impressed by Yossi’s culinary creativity. After dinner, Yossi chatted with us about her goals for her restaurant, one being that she wants to serve good food to people; “good” meaning not just tasty and delicious, but also healthy, fresh, organic food. And she’s doing just that, with meticulous attention to her dishes.
2. Kagizen Yoshifune’s Kuzukiri
You know you’re in the right confectionary store when the long line of patiently waiting people consists entirely of Japanese men and women above the age of 40 (the average age is probably 60) and absolutely no tourists in sight. Kagizen’s kuzukiri was my mother’s recommendation, a treat she first tasted at the same spot in high school and fell in love with.
It’s a gelatinous noodle that you dip in a sweet sauce, and it’s just perfect for a hot summer day. The texture is an indescribable chewiness, and the kuromitsu (similar to molasses but not as thick) has a complex flavor for such a simple thing. There are other sweets available, but the kuzukiri in kuromitsu (900 yen, about $9.00) is the only thing you should be having.
Kagizen Yoshifusa’s website.
3. Ao Oni’s Onigiri
We never thought we would be talking up a simple thing like onigiri (rice balls), but we just have to. Because this place is awesome. The friendly owner stands behind a counter and makes each one to order as he chats up the customers. There are the standard fillings like umeboshi (sour plum) and tarako (cod roe), as well as interesting original fillings like negimentai (scallion spicy cod roe), misoshake (miso-stewed salmon) and so much more.
His tonjiru (pork-based miso soup) is a great side dish to accompany the onigiris. They average 180 yen each (about $1.80). Go there for lunch in a really chill environment. You won’t be disappointed.
Ao Oni’s website.
4. Kansai Bar Food at Yoshimi
We were craving izakaya food and our CS host recommended Yoshimi for a local experience. We walked into a cozy izakaya with seats around a U-shaped counter and tatami floor seating in the back. Being shy and dying to take our shoes off after walking around all day, we opted for the less crowded tatami mat area. We ordered the specialties our host recommended (dashimaki, cabbage roll, okonomiyaki) and more while we stretched our legs and hung out amongst the locals.
There was whale meat prepared all different ways but we decided not to partake this time. We would go back to sample their other dishes (including the whale), but this is more of a drinking and eating spot, so going with a small group would probably be more fun.
5. Notoyo’s Unagi
Sorry, Tokyo, but Kyoto-style eel has won us over. N and I have had many unagi meals in some of your better unagi spots, but Kyoto’s got you beat. We immediately noticed the crispiness of the skin compared to the soft skin you get in Tokyo. Turns out, Kyoto grills their eel skin-side down, which is the opposite of how Tokyo does it.
We wanted to save ourselves for some of the other edible delights at the Nishiki Food Market (often called “Kyoto’s Kitchen”) so we had a smaller eel lunch set ($22) that came with two appetizers, pickles, soup and dessert.
Notoyo’s contact information.
Other food spots that didn’t make it on our list but were delicious (like the soy milk donuts) are in our Kyoto photo album.